Rostraver Marine refused to abandon buddies in a bloody, final battle in Korea
Bob Vertacnik could have avoided one of the final bloody battles of the Korean War, but he was stubborn.
He might have avoided even shipping out to Korea, but he was stubborn.
Vertacnik, 83, of Rostraver fought through multiple injuries and against medical orders in a chaotic and deadly battle for Hill 119, known as Boulder City, in the last days before the armistice was signed on July 27, 1953.
Vertacnik said fighting was to stop at 10 p.m. the day before the peace agreement would be signed.
“The whole sky was lighting up with these white flares. It was strange,” he recalled. “All this blood and guts, and all of a sudden it's done.”
It's “unbelievable” that was 60 years ago, he said.
“You realize you're dealing with your own mortality now,” Vertacnik said. Some of his military buddies have died, and others are in wheelchairs, he said.
But Vertacnik, who said he's considering attending a reunion this fall in Milwaukee, is still sharp-witted and lively.
He was so determined to join the Marines that he went to enlist twice: He was rejected at 17 because of medical complications from a ruptured appendix, but was accepted two years later.
When the war broke out in 1950, the Marines “were taking anybody that was warm,” so he traveled to Pittsburgh to the old postal building on Smithfield Street and joined the Corps.
Vertacnik trained as a field radio operator, and officers wanted to send him to Chicago for more training. But he was determined to get to Korea.
Vertacnik said that he'd go to his superior each month to volunteer for the replacement draft so he could join the fighting, but it wasn't until he persuaded the officer to let him switch positions with a Marine who did not want to deploy that he received overseas orders.
He arrived in Korea on Nov. 10, 1952, but it was the Boulder City fighting in July 1953 that sticks with him.
Two key outposts had been taken by opposing forces, leaving Boulder City — which offered views of American supply routes and Seoul — isolated.
“Boulder City became the most important piece of real estate in Korea,” Vertacnik said.
His unit, George Company, Third Battalion, Seventh Marines, led a counterattack to protect Boulder City, and on July 20, 1953 —his 23rd birthday — Vertacnik was cut by shrapnel on his right wrist and knee.
He was tagged to be evacuated for medical treatment, but he instead rejoined his unit and helped pick off Chinese soldiers with a machine gun.
Two days later, with a suspected infection in his wrist and hand, Vertacnik said, he again walked away from a hospital while the doctor was treating other patients. He hitched a ride back to his unit — and was again hit by shrapnel.
On July 24, 1953, limping with his knee taped up, Vertacnik volunteered to run in heavy rain and mud to bring back three Marines who couldn't be reached by radio.
“I'm running toward the Chinese line. I don't know how I made it,” he said.
His sleeve was damaged by bullets, but he and the other three Marines made it back safely.
When another wave of fighting started, Vertacnik began throwing grenades. Once his weapon was empty, he began to engage in hand-to-hand combat.
He ended up face down in the mud with a concussion.
Even after that, Vertacnik refused to quit.
He got up and worked through the night carrying wounded troops to the first-aid station and the evacuation point.
“You're running on empty. You really have to fight. ... It seems like your legs won't move,” he said.
Vertacnik, who left the Marines in October 1954 as a sergeant, was awarded two Bronze Stars and three Purple Hearts.
In 1956, he married Josephine, whom he met during a street fair in Donora. The two had been married for 38 years when she passed away in 1994 at age 61.
The couple had two sons and two daughters: Bob, Mary Jo, Leanne and Eric.
After the service, Vertacnik worked for 32 years in purchasing at Westinghouse in Youngwood. He retired in 1991.
While there, he earned two associate degrees in 1978 from the newly founded Westmoreland County Community College. He later transferred to California University of Pennsylvania to complete a bachelor's degree in social science, he said.
Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or email@example.com.
Add Kari Andren to your Google+ circles.
Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Norwin band director is finding lots of success in return to his alma mater
- Jeannette company’s miniature steam engines coveted for decades
- Project to tear down former Jeannette District Memorial Hospital on schedule, Excela says
- Westmoreland County furloughs weights and measurements director
- Police gather in Ligonier for Perryopolis officer’s funeral
- Penn Township man who shot friend gets probation
- Demolition project at Oliver’s Pourhouse in Greensburg moves ahead
- Unity name excised from Latrobe parks, recreation
- United Way surplus funds benefit 9 nonprofits in Westmoreland County
- Greensburg police Officer Scalzo commended for stopping suicide
- Route 981 sewage project could cost less